Christmas is celebrated by some 2 billion people worldwide. This popular celebration is linked (of course) to Christianity with the intent to honor the birth of Jesus Christ. But many of today’s traditions were celebrated centuries before the Christ child was born. The Yule log, the giving of gifts, carnivals , carolers who sing while going from house to house, holiday feasts and church processions are all rooted in the customs observed by early Mesopotamians 4000 years ago!
In Scandinavia during the winter months, the sun would disappear for a very long time. After 35 of such dark days, scouts would be sent out to the mountain tops to await the return of this life-giving heavenly body. When first light was seen, the scouts hurried back bearing the good news! A great festival would be held, called the Yuletide and a feast was held around a fire burning the Yule log. In some areas people would tie apples to the branches of trees as a reminder that Spring would eventually return. Many pagan orders celebrated the Winter Solstice, the season when days
are shortest and nights the longest. The pagan Romans called this celebration Saturnalia, in honor of their god Saturn. It was considered a fun and festive time for the Romans, but Christians considered it an abomination. According to some legends, the Christian celebration of Christmas was invented to compete against the pagan festivals held in December. Although December 25th is generally accepted as being the time when the Christ Child was born, the exact date has never been chronicled with any degree of accuracy. One thing is relatively certain, it did not take place in
December! When the angel came to the shepherds “abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night” it is unlikely that shepherds in Israel would be sleeping outside with their flocks in winter, the nights were way too cold. In 350 A.D. Julius I (a bishop of Rome) selected December 25th as the observance of Christmas. This date was made official in 375 A.D.
Interestingly, in Colonial America there were no Christmas celebrations. As recently as 100 years or so ago, such observances were declared illegal in many parts of the United States, including most of New England as they were defined as pagan and a reproach to the Lord. Today, it is against the law in some areas to display any Christmas symbols that are NOT pagan in nature…the erecting of nativity scenes, for example, are banned in some regions of America. Ironically, New England being one such area!
In the years following the Civil War, Christmas traditions began to filter across the country. Children’s books played a vital role in spreading the customs of Christmas, particularly the tradition of trimmed trees and gifts delivered by Santa Claus.
Speaking of Santa Claus, he happens to be the best-loved and best-known of all Christmas gift-givers. Thought of as supernatural, Santa Claus is attended by elves and is able to travel the entire surface of the Earth in only a few short hours, which includes climbing up and down millions of chimneys. (I am assuming that is where the supernatural part comes in! He also knows who has been naughty or nice, so there’s that!)
The foundation of Santa Claus is actually based on a factual character, namely, St Nicholas. The story goes that St. Nicholas learned of a father who was unable to pay for his three daughters’ dowries, so St. Nick dropped gold balls down a chimney, which landed in stockings that were by the fire to dry. Traditional versions of the story generally have the gold land at the father’s feet after being thrown through a window!
Though originally depicted as tall, thin and stately, Washington Irving created a new image of Santa in 1809. Irving described him as a jolly fellow wearing a broad-brimmed hat, huge breeches and smoking a long pipe. He rode over the treetops in a wagon, took presents from his pockets and dropped them down chimneys. In 1822 Clement C. Moore’s popular poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” described him as a “chubby and plump, right jolly old elf.” Moore’s Santa rode in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer. (Sorry, no Rudolph yet!)
The most recent depictions of Santa have come from (Wait for it!) Coca-Cola! From 1931-1964, an artist named Haddon Sunblom created the universally loved Santa of our time as advertisement for the product. He came complete with a red suit, trimmed with white fur, leather boots and belt, long white beard and a pack of toys slung across his back.
Here are the origins of a few more Christmas traditions we observe.
Holly was thought to be magical because of its shiny leaves and its ability to bear fruit in the winter. Some believed it contained syrup that cured coughs. Others hung it over their beds to produce good dreams.
The early Christian Church associated holly with Christ’s crown of thorns, the red berries representing His blood. This if often thought to be the reason Christmas colors are mainly red and green.
USING EVERGREENS FOR CHRISTMAS TREES
As mentioned before, evergreens were used to decorate homes long before Christianity. Many stories abound with who brought the first tree indoors instead of just boughs from the tree. One such story is of Martin Luther in the 16th century. He was walking through the forest and looked up to see stars shining through the tree branches. He went home and told his children that it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas. Germany is accredited with originally being the first to decorate trees with candles. The practice, as we know it, started when Queen Charlotte decorated a tree in Windsor Castle in 1800! She covered it with almonds and raisins in paper, fruits and toys illuminated by small wax candles. The children were encouraged to take a toy and what sweetmeats they could handle. It was a great success, to say the least! In 1841, Prince Albert brought a tree for Queen Victoria and the practice really took off.
By 1900, 1 in 5 American families had a tree. Today 25 to 30 million real trees are sold in the U.S.
For many people, placing a wreath on the front door is part of the festive tradition of Christmas. But it’s true meaning runs deeper. For centuries wreathes have represented the unending cycle of life and have been symbols of victory and honor. Ancient Druids, Celts, and Romans used evergreen branches made into wreathes in their winter solstice celebrations. As early as 1444, wreathes were used as Christmas decorations in London. In 16th century Germany, evergreen branches were intertwined in a circular shape to symbolize God’s love, which has no beginning and no end.
Although lengthy, this newsletter is just a small portion of the fascinating history behind Christmas as we know it. Whatever your traditions and customs may be, enjoy them to the fullest with your family and friends, which are your greatest gifts at Christmas and throughout the coming year.
LET’S EAT OUT!
After the Kakaako Farm Lovers Market last Saturday, I revisited one of my favorite Japanese restaurants in Honolulu. Rinka holds a well-deserved reputation for delicious meal sets and Izakaya dishes. Situated in a lovely location in Ward Village, it is family friendly and a go to destination for both lunch and dinner. If you arrive by 11:00 am you are greeted with a warm Japanese welcome and seated immediately, arrive later and you will have to wait. They do not take reservations for small groups so make your plans accordingly but know if you must wait, it is well worth it!
Rinka is a regular full service restaurant in the evening, but I prefer lunch as it is the most economical way to enjoy the dishes. Dinner is served mostly ala carte and is much more expensive.
They offer teishoku lunch sets with an entree, chawanmushi (an egg custard dish with savory items), miso soup with tofu, two side dishes and tsukemono (Japanese pickles). Teishoku meals are based on traditional meals at Zen temples. This particular day I savored the beef sukiyaki, presented in a cast iron pot, accompanied by multigrain rice, trumpet mushrooms, cabbage, tofu, onions, and Konnyaku* noodles in a sweet sauce. Last month I had the teshoku lunch set with unagi (fresh water eel). It was as close to the perfect eel I was served recently in Tokyo as I could have hoped for! Other options are scrumptious chicken karaage (fried), tempura, sashimi and sushi sets.They always offer a fish special, as well.
While they do not have their own parking lot, you can park at Whole Foods and take the Halekauwila elevator down and walk along the corner to the right.
*Konnyaku is a traditional Japanese jelly-like health food made from a kind of potato called “Konnyaku potato” and calcium hydroxide or oxide calcium extracted from eggshells. The noodle type of Konnyaku is called Shirataki. Shirataki is sometimes referred to as “Miracle Noodle”.
Rinka Japanese Restaurant
1001 Queen Street #106
Monday-Sunday 11 am-2 pm and 5 pm -10 pm
WHAT HAPPENING THIS MONTH ON OAHU?
December 7th… Honolulu Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. The Honolulu City Lights festivities begin with keiki rides and souvenir booths at 4 PM, along with a Block Party with food vendors along Punchbowl Street. The evening continues with an Electric Light Parade from the intersection of River and King Streets down King Street to Honolulu Hale (City Hall). At 6:30 PM the Mayor will illuminate the 50 foot holiday tree.
December 7th is the National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. There will be multiple activities including a Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade from 4:30 PM to 7:30 PM. The parade route runs along Kalakaua and ends at the Waikiki Shell. For more information, checkout their website: https://www.pearlharborparade.org/the-parade.
December 7th from 7:50 AM-9:15 AM, the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center will present a commemoration ceremony with a blessing, guest speakers, flyovers, a rifle salute, music by the Pacific Fleet Band, wreath presentations and other tributes to this solemn remembrance. The event is free, but since there are no reservations arrive early since seating is limited. The doors open at 6 AM. For more information, go to their website: pearlharborevent.com/events.
December 7th the Kailua Lanikai Craft Fair will be held on Mokulua Drive. There will be over 100 artists selling crafts, paintings, jewelry and much more. The hours are from 9 AM until 3 PM.
December 8th, the day starts early (5 AM) for the Honolulu Marathon. This is the fourth largest marathon in the United States. If you are in top condition, you can sign up until 5 PM on the 7th. The race will start along the Ala Moana Beach Park and course through Waikiki, Diamond Head, and Hawaii Kai with the finish line at Kapiolani Park. Thousands will participate in this popular event. For more information, visit their website: http://www.honolulumarathon.org.
December 14th the Makahiki Challenge will be held at Kualoa Ranch. This a 5K run includes 12 obstacles, including the 12 foot wall, ice bath and mud pit. What fun ! It ends with a much appreciated live concert . For more information, check out their website: www.makahikichallenge.com.
December 15th, the Make-A-Wish Foundation is hosting the Jingle Rock Run/Walk. This is a fun event to support the Make a Wish Foundation. The race begins at 3 PM at the Hawaii State Capitol in Honolulu. For more information, visit hawaii.wish.org.
December 31st …The annual New Year’s Eve fireworks will start at Waikiki Beach at 11:55 PM.
The fireworks will be choreographed to music and last for 8-10 minutes.
Other firework displays will take place at Aloha Tower Marketplace, Hilton Hawaiian Village, the Kahala Hotel, Four Seasons Resort at Ko Olina, the Turtle Bay Resort and well into New Year’s Day in every neighborhood across the State.
The Diamond Head Theatre will be presenting The Sound of Music this month. Based on the real life story of the Von Trapp Family singers, this Broadway musical was also a successful movie in 1964. To purchase tickets, go to their website: https://www.diamondheadtheatre.com.
December 1st the Islandwide Christmas Crafts and Food Expo will be held at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall from 10 AM until 5 PM. Over 400 artisans will participate to sell handcrafts, edible delights and gifts. There will also be great performers including: Melveen Leed, Ben & Maila, Kapena and Kupaoa. For more information check out their website: http://www.islandwidecraftexpos.com/.
On December 10th, the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra will present A Very Merry Holiday Pops at the Hawaii Theatre. The Holiday Party and Concert will include pupus and two cocktails at 5:30 PM followed by the concert from 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM.
December 13th -15th The beautiful The Nutcracker ballet will be performed at the Blaisdell Concert Hall. This is a perennial favorite is combined with a Hawaiian themed interpretation.
December 14 and 15th the Mele Kalikimaka Marketplace Gift and Craft Show will be held at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall. This is the first year for this event and will have local vendors making handcrafted work along with wholesalers and distributors.
December 20th-22nd the Hawaii Holiday Craft and Gift Fair will be held at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall and it will be packed! Arrive early to park in the garage, as it will fill up fast. There will be over 250 vendors with many handmade gifts made by Hawaiian artisans, including: jewelry, handbags, wreaths, toys, clothes, gift baskets, koa boxes, pens and many more special gifts for the holidays.
December 20th and 21st…Johnny Mathis will perform his popular Christmas classics at the Blaisdell Concert Hall with a 35-piece orchestra.
The Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning RENT will be at the Blaisdell Concert Hall. There will be eight shows, with the first on Tuesday the 24th of December. This rock musical first hit Broadway in 1996. For more information and tickets, go to : https://blaisdellcenter.com/event/rent-20th-anniversary-tour-5/.
December 31st … Comedian Bill Maher will share the stage with Sarah Silverman and Bobby Clayton for the New Year’s Comedy Extravaganza. The show will begin at 8 PM at the Blaisdell Concert Hall. This popular show was a sold-out for the pasts eight years, so get your tickets as soon as possible.
Cathy, Mary and Jeff